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  Volume No. 12 Issue No. 3 March 2015  

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Pet Care
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Dr. Jim Humphries
  Putting pet insurance to the test
  By Dr. Jim Humphries

   Pet insurance began more than 25 years ago, but less than 2 percent of Americans purchase pet insurance, compared to a United Kingdom survey that showed almost half of all pets are insured there. Why the difference? Perhaps the best way to explore this question is through a real-life case.
   After playing rough one day, Tucker, a neutered 3-year old rescued Great Dane, with no known history of medical problems, suddenly experienced front leg weakness and neck pain only eight months after his adoption.
   His concerned family took him to their veterinarian. The initial X-rays and subsequent more accurate MRI confirmed their veterinarianís fears Ė Tucker had Wobblerís Syndrome. Wobblerís is a debilitating spinal cord disease, which can be considered hereditary in many large breed dogs, especially Dobermans and Great Danes.
   From the initial exams and X-rays, through the neurologistís exam, the MRI and eventually the major spine surgery (a dorsal laminectomy), the total bill would be over $10,000. Would pet insurance help pay for any of this?
   As a head-to-head test, exact quotes were obtained from five popular pet health insurance companies.
   The key factors to consider when evaluating any pet insurance include
  • the monthly costs
  • the deductible
  • the co-pay amount
  • does the policy cover hereditary or genetic conditions
  • are there yearly or lifetime limits

   The companies we chose for this comparison are Hartville Pet Insurance, Veterinary Pet Insurance, Pets Best, Purina Care and Trupanion.
   Hartville Pet Insurance offered a monthly premium at $38.58 with an annual deductible of $100. This company has a $1,500 per incident limit, with an annual limit at $8,000 and a 20 percent co-pay. The program does specifically exclude hereditary coverage. Tuckerís payout would be zero.
   With VPI, the monthly payment would be $45, with a $250 deductible per year. They pay by a complex benefits schedule where all other companies have a set co-pay amount. Also, their limits on hereditary coverage are restrictive. There is a 12-month waiting period for hereditary conditions; and, because Tuckerís policy was purchased just eight months ago, they would have paid nothing on this case. Tuckerís payout would have been zero.
   Petís Best quoted a $45 monthly premium for Tucker and the same $250 deductible, but per incident instead of yearly. They, too, have limited hereditary coverage, a 20 percent co-pay, and limit the amount of each incident to $7,000. They donít consider Wobblers a hereditary condition so they would pay $8,000 minus the deductible with an incident limit of $7,000. Tuckerís payout would be the incident limit of $7,000.
   The problem is if the dog had complications after the main treatment, there would be no more financial benefit.
   PurinaCare would insure Tucker for $44 a month, with a $250 deductible per year and a 20 percent co-pay. They also cover hereditary conditions and have great limits of $20,000 annual and no lifetime limits. Tuckerís payout would be $7,800. Should Tucker have complications, there is plenty of reserve financial benefit.
   Finally to insure Tucker with Trupanion, it would cost $44 month, with a $250 deductible per incident. They do cover hereditary conditions. They have no yearly or lifetime coverage limits, and they pay 90 percent of the bill! After the $250 deductible, Tuckerís payout would be $8,750 Ė the most of any of the companies. This is the policy Tucker had.
   In Tuckerís case, insurance really paid off. Not only did it pay for the large majority of this catastrophic condition, it also provided peace of mind for his owners. They were saved the difficult decision of having to consider euthanasia or watching him slowly lose control of his legs.
   Some consumer groups say with a healthy pet itís better to save the money. Companies like Pawsitive Savings encourage pet owners to save every month, then use that money for urgent medical care.
   However, insurance is protection for unknown events in the future. Even routine care can add up, making a case for a healthy pet to have insurance. In Tuckerís case, it happened in eight months, not long enough to have saved $10,000.
   Veterinary costs can easily run into the thousands, so maybe now is the time to give this serious thought.
   An important note: All pet insurance companies are managed as a third-party reimbursement program, requiring you to pay the initial fee. Normally, the reimbursement is only a few weeks, minimizing the initial financial impact.
   Also, you must be aware these companies may have rate increases, and some have significant increases in rates as your pet gets older.
   Pet insurance is an individual decision. With a little online research, you can make a smart decision for your budget and your pets and find the right company for your needs. Your veterinarian stays up to date on all this and is your best source of advice.
   Dr. Jim Humphries is a house call veterinarian in Falcon. He also serves as a visiting Professor at the College of Veterinary Medicine at Texas A&M University. He lives in Falcon with his wife, horses and Great Danes.


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